The driver of a BMW who ran down and seriously injured an intoxicated man outside a popular southern Orange County restaurant after a soda was hurled at his car was found guilty Monday.
Morteza Bakhtiari, 27, of Costa Mesa sat motionless and stared straight ahead as the jury's verdict was read. He was convicted of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and hit-and-run driving but acquitted of premeditated attempted murder.
The victim, John Royston, 43, a loan officer and former assistant football coach at Santa Margarita High School, recovered from a coma after the incident but is disabled by severe brain trauma.
"I'm just glad and happy and thankful for what he got today," said Royston, who was in court for the verdict.
Royston said he remained unable to recall what happened before he was struck.
During the trial, Bakhtiari's defense attorney portrayed the incident as an accident, maintaining that an antagonistic Royston, affected by alcohol after a night of drinking with friends, picked a fight with Bakhtiari and then stepped in the path of the BMW as Bakhtiari tried to drive away from an escalating situation.
But jurors did not believe Bakhtiari, who testified that he thought Royston, a stocky 6-footer, was the aggressor that night outside Opah Restaurant & Bar in Aliso Viejo.
"We had a lot of problems with his testimony," said one juror, Eileen Heller of Orange. "There was just a lack of remorse for what he did during the whole trial."
Bakhtiari faces as much as 16 years in prison, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Simmons, who said he was pleased with the verdict.
"Jurors worked hard, and although they didn't find him guilty of premeditation, I'm glad they found him guilty of attempted murder," Simmons said.
If Bakhtiari had been found guilty of deliberately running down Royston and grazing another companion, he could have faced life imprisonment.
The incident occurred about 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 19, when Royston and two friends left Opah in Aliso Viejo Town Center and saw a silver BMW speed through the parking lot and run a stop sign.
Royston and his friends yelled at the driver to slow down and one of them threw a soda at the car, but Bakhtiari continued to speed and eventually hit a parked Mercedes-Benz before turning around and heading for the three men.
One man jumped out of the car's path, but Royston was unable to evade the vehicle. A second man was grazed, and the third man was not directly in danger.
"I definitely felt he was aiming at us," said one of Royston's companions, Christopher Herr, who recalled getting brushed by the BMW. "I think this was a fair verdict."
Royston said his rehabilitation had been difficult. The former college football player said he lacked the stamina and drive he once had, and faced the threat of blood clots in his legs.
"I have been told I can coach this year," he said after the hearing. "But I don't think I can coach, because I can't stand up for too long."
Royston played football at the University of New Mexico and briefly in the Canadian Football League as a receiver. He coached at Santa Margarita for three seasons at the freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels, leaving the Rancho Santa Margarita school in 2004 when he began working solely as a loan officer.
He plans to speak at Bakhtiari's June 1 sentencing hearing.